A group of Catholic and evangelical scholars that has been in dialogue for more than a decade has issued a new statement condemning spiritual sloth.
The statement, published in the Catholic journal First Things and the evangelical magazine Christianity Today, affirms the Bible’s call to holiness and decries members in both traditions who are Christians in name only.
“It is a great scandal that so many Christians of our day, while continuing to be identified as members of the church, fail to respond to the call to holiness,” according to the statement. “Too many, misunderstanding the nature of faith and presuming upon the grace of God, disregard the commandments of God. Such Christians rely on what Dietrich Bonhoeffer called ‘cheap grace,’ evading ‘the cost of discipleship.'”
The statement, “The Call to Holiness,” is the fifth produced by Evangelicals and Catholics Together, a group of scholars speaking as individuals committed to their respective communities but without any official mandate.
Earlier statements on broad areas of agreement and disagreement between the two traditions and the nature of salvation sparked controversy with some who charged they glossed over important theological issues and misled the public about what evangelicals believe.
The Christianity Today editors predicted the new document, created by the informal group started by Chuck Colson and Richard John Neuhaus, would be more widely received, “because it speaks to a strongly felt common need.”
While holiness is properly attributed to God alone, the statement says, human beings are called to participate in holiness, meaning “nothing less than to be drawn into the very life and love of God—Father, Son and Holy Spirit.”
“Sadly, the level of commitment is much lower than it ought to be,” the scholars acknowledge. “In all our communities, there are many who are members in name only. Many of us live in a manner that brings disgrace on the name of God.”
While the call to holiness “entails a continuing call to repentance and transformation,” many Christians “have received practically no instruction in Christian doctrine” and “fail to measure up to the norms of Christian conduct.”
Weak and sinful members “should not be treated with harshness and contempt, but rather with compassion, each of us being painfully aware of our own frailty,” the scholars concur. “We strive to find ways of helping inactive, alienated, and marginal Christians to rise to the dignity that is theirs as children of God.”
“Holiness entails a transforming encounter with the living Christ,” the statement says. “This conversion, which is ongoing in the Christian life, means that one becomes a disciple of Christ, and discipleship necessarily entails discipline. Christians know they are not perfect, but they together constitute a people that is different.”
The scholars call on Catholics and evangelicals corporately and individually “to recommit ourselves to the life of discipleship that ought to be the distinctive mark of Christians.”
Christians are “in no way exempted from obedience to the moral law permanently inscribed by the Creator in human nature,” the statement says, and “are bound to the moral precepts” of the Ten Commandments, affirmed in Christ’s words, “If you love me, you will keep my commandments.”
Believers are also expected to “hear and study the word of God, especially as it comes to us in the Holy Scriptures” and to worship together on the Lord’s Day, which is described as “central to the Christian life.”
All Christians should also “confess our sins and failures to God and one another, especially to those whom we have offended, according to the opportunities and requirements of our respective communions,” the statement says, and to view the church as being on mission.
The church’s entire mission is summarized “under the rubric of evangelization,” the statement continues, which in the broadest sense “is proclaiming the Good News of Jesus Christ to all people and bringing that gospel to bear, by word and deed, on the totality of things.”
Revisiting a theme surfaced in the group’s first document in 1994, “Evangelicals & Catholics Together: The Christian Mission in the Third Millennium,” the scholars repeated areas where Catholics and evangelicals can work together “to exemplify and advance a culture of life.”
“This includes defense of religious freedom and the marriage-based family, resistance to evils such as abortion, euthanasia, eugenics and coercive population control, and a devotion to justice for all, especially for the poor,” the statement says.
Southern Baptist signers include Colson and Timothy George, dean of Samford University’s Beeson Divinity School.
Two Southern Baptist Convention leaders—Larry Lewis of the Home Mission Board and Richard Land of the Christian Life Commission—endorsed the first ECT document, but later removed their signatures amid criticism.
A foundational statement in the first document describing conversion as “having received the new birth for the first time or as having experienced the reawakening of the new birth originally bestowed in the sacrament of baptism.”
Critics said that compromise advanced a “works” salvation, undermined evangelism among Catholics and opened the door for “ecumenism” in Southern Baptist life.
Bob Allen is managing editor of EthicsDaily.com.
Previous statements by the ECT group are:
Evangelicals & Catholics Together: The Christian Mission in the Third Millennium
The Gift of Salvation
Your Word Is Truth
The Communion of Saints